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[casi] Hardly Humanitarian - Op-Ed from Save the Children Director-General (21 Feb 03)

Source: Save the Children Director-General Mike Aaronson, "Hardly
Humanitarian", Guardian (London), 21 February 2003,,11538,900522,00.html


In the debate over the pros and cons of a war in Iraq, the government's new
concern for the interests of ordinary Iraqi people is very welcome.

But it rings hollow when one considers that the UK, in its role as a member
of the UN security council, could have done so much more to modify a
sanctions regime that has brought enormous suffering to Iraqi children and
their families over the past 12 years.

Despite the government's insistence that a war would be on humanitarian
grounds, no funding has been forthcoming to support efforts to prepare for
the potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences of military action.

While the Ministry of Defence has been given a multi-billion pound warchest,
the Department for International Development has not received a penny of
extra cash, either for its own work or to pass on to humanitarian agencies
trying to make contingency plans.

These agencies are deeply concerned that humanitarian preparations are
woefully inadequate. They are calling on the government to make funds
ensuring that the suffering of Iraqi civilians is minimised available

Tony Blair has presented us with a choice between war and the continuation
of sanctions. There is little evidence of humanitarian concern in this.

The UN predicts that 1 million under-fives in Iraq could die from
malnutrition if there is a war. Under the UN's current oil for food
programme, 16 million people, or 60% of Iraqis, are dependent on a basic
food ration. This is more than the number of people needing food aid in
Ethiopia or the whole of southern Africa.

The primary victims of sanctions, the poor, the old, the sick, and women and
children, are not responsible for the policies of the Iraqi president,
Saddam Hussein. They are also the least able to change them because of their
acute vulnerability.

Furthermore, sanctions have made the Iraqi population dependent on the
country's government and the UN for food rations, medicine, and other

Mortality among under-fives in Iraq has increased by 166% under sanctions.
No other country in the world has seen its health standards deteriorate this
rapidly. Hundreds of thousands of children have now died, unnecessarily, in
Iraq during the last decade.

The Iraqi regime must bear a heavy responsibility for the suffering of its
people, but it is an uncomfortable fact that most indices of human
development were improving prior to the 1991 war. They have worsened
dramatically since the imposition of sanctions.

Part of the blame, therefore, must lie with governments who have supported
the sanctions regime, using their powers of veto to block modifications that
could have alleviated Iraqi suffering while maintaining pressure on Saddam's

British governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been leading
exponents of the continuation of sanctions in the UN security council.

On the basis of Save the Children's experience of the effects of sanctions,
we have, for more than six years, campaigned for the replacement of the
existing sanctions regime with one targeting the Iraqi government and its
military machine.

If the British government pursued such a policy, it would represent a much
clearer indication of concern for the people of Iraq than Mr Blair's options
of war or continuation with the current sanctions regime.

In the event of conflict, it is likely that there would be a sudden collapse
of the countrywide food ration distribution system.

Around 1,000 UN staff, upon whom the oil for food programme relies to verify
the arrival of imports, pay suppliers, and pass food on to some 45,000 Iraqi
food agents, will be evacuated. Within weeks, this will result in real
hunger among the poorer sections of the community.

If the electricity infrastructure is bombed, as it was in 1991, water and
sewage systems would also collapse, leading to the rapid onset of disease.

Families headed by professionals only have incomes of between $3 and $6 per
month, on top of the basic food ration received by Iraq's whole population.
Poorer families have no income, and have been selling their basic rations in
order to obtain cash for other essentials. They will be the most vulnerable
in the event of a conflict.

A British government genuinely committed to putting the interests of
ordinary Iraqis first would ensure that any coalition forces took every
possible step to protect the vital infrastructure on which food and water
supplies depend.

It would ensure that access to food and other humanitarian needs, under the
supervision of the UN, not military forces, was secured as soon as possible.
It would commit to providing the finance to make this happen, without
diverting scarce humanitarian resources from the current enormous food
crises afflicting Africa.

Considering all the options from the perspective of Iraqi citizens, and
making firm commitments to protect their vital interests, would be much more
likely to convince the British public that their government is really
committed to the welfare of Iraqi people.

 Mike Aaronson is director-general of Save the Children.


Nathaniel Hurd
NGO Consultant on United Nations' Iraq policy
Tel. (Mobile): 917-407-3389
Fax: 718-504-4224
Residential/Mailing Address:
90 7th Ave.
Apt. #6
Brooklyn, NY  11217

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